This week at the station

This week at Macquarie Island: 5 April 2013

MIPEP - The rodent teams' whirlwind island tour

March saw the beginning of field work for the MIPEP team. Once we were field-trained, we soon headed out to start work.

The rabbit hunters and dog handlers went into their hunting blocks, while the rodent team (Ange, Leona and dogs Cody, Bail and Chase) with Dean as our guide got familiar with the island. For eight days we trekked down the island south via the east coast, then returned via the west coast. Along the way we were also setting up rodent monitoring lines, (tunnels that contain tracking ink cards and peanut butter lures) ready for the next time we would be coming into that area to work.

Our first stop was Green Gorge hut to meet up with Dean. Then we started heading south along the east coast to Waterfall Bay hut in nice weather. After a couple of days there having a look around we set off south again to Hurd Point. We picked our way for hours past and around royal, king and rockhopper penguin colonies, through tussock and the notoriously rugged coastline of Macca. The rodent dogs managed their way through too, the wind and rain hammering them.

After getting to Hurd Point and setting up our rodent tracking tunnels, we went over to check out the pretty hostile conditions and un-negotiable terrain of the southern coast. The weather was naturally foul, shortening our planned route somewhat, but we got a feel for the Macca weather experience none the less. 

The next day was good enough for the team to start heading back up north to the west coast and up past more royals and rockhoppers. By the end of the day, the weather became pretty stunning, the wind had dropped and the sun was out. Making our climb up onto the plateau rather hot under the layers of wet-weather gear.

As we came to Tiobunga hut, we found it in a state of absolute calm, the calmest we’ve seen the island since we arrived. The lake in front of the water tank hut was as still as a millpond. With dogs in the kennel and dinner in our bellies, I discovered sleeping up in the top bunk of a water tank hut is not entirely favourable.

During the night we could hear the wind come up sharply. By the morning it was quite the inferno of wind outside the hut. We listened on the radio for the weather forecasts and heard how other teams were struggling with the weather even on the east coast so it was decided we wouldn’t be attempting to get over the escarpment for a while yet. We stayed bunkered down at Tiobunga.

Rodent dog Cody wasn’t sleeping in his kennel anymore, he was standing out in the wind rather unhappily. Eventually Ange moved him to another kennel, thinking he might be more comfortable there. Less than half an hour later the very kennel that he had been afraid of rolled away in the wind towards the lake. I think Cody was trying to tell us something, lucky dog! After this, we discovered that one of the aerials on the hut snapped in half as well: the winds were incredible.

By mid-afternoon the wind had settled ever so slightly. We decided to head out towards the escarpment jump-down into Sandell Bay and make our way along the coast to Davis Point hut. We were treated to an amazing sunset on our arrival as it descended behind the six metre waves still hammering the west coast.

The next day we got up bright and early as we had a big day ahead of us. We were still on the southern side of the map, not even halfway up the island yet, and our destination was the station that day. It took until we were at Eitel hut for lunch when we could finally just use one side of the Macquarie Island map.

We arrived back at VJM by the end of the day. The dogs were pretty keen to get into their kennels and out of the elements.

Leona and Ange

Ange and Leona standing in grass field, both with survival gear and backpacks and the rodent dogs near Leona's feet. The hills in the background slope steeply toward the coast
Ange and Leona with the rodent dogs
(Photo: The Rodent team)
Cody the rodent dog (fox terrier border terrier cross), in the foreground, lying in the tussock grass taking a break with Hurd Point in the distant background
Cody, the rodent dog, taking a break at Hurd Point
Looking south across Far North Precarious Bay, on the the West Coast, from the top of the jump up
Far north Precarious Bay on the the west coast from the top…
(Photo: The Rodent team)
Looking down the Hurd Point grassy 'jump up' slope towards Hurd Point. Chase, the rodent dog, is walking up the slope, while Leona is further down the slope on the left
Leona and Chase on the Hurd Point grassy 'jump up'
(Photo: The Rodent team)
Leona standing in the tussock grass, wearing a yellow rain jacket and carrying a survival backpack. The coast is in the background
Leona on the job
(Photo: The Rodent team)
Putting out rodent tracking tunnels at Hurd point. Dean, on the right, is handing a tracking tunnel (triangular tube about 50 centimetres long) to Ange who is staning above a small borough amongst the tussock
Putting out rodent tracking tunnels at Hurd Point
(Photo: The rodent team)
Rico (white labrador), Cody and Bail (terriers) at Green Gorge. The dogs are beside their kennels, which are made of empty 200 litre fuel drums
Rico, Cody and Bail at Green Gorge
(Photo: The Rodent team)
Davis Point Hut and the rugged coast line silhouetted against a beautiful orange and brown coloured sunset
Sunset at Davis Point hut
(Photo: The Rodent team)
Sunset through the surf and rugged coastal rocks on the west coast
Sunset through the surf and rugged coastal rocks on the west coast
(Photo: The Rodent team)
The pack of three rodent dogs Cody, Chase and Bail sitting on some tussock grass, near a rocky beach
The pack of three rodent dogs - Cody, Chase and Bail
(Photo: The Rodent team)
Looking across at the reflections on Tiobunga Lake, with Tiobunga hut on the distant shore and Chase, the rodent dog, just on the shore in the foreground
Tiobunga Lake and hut - Chase the rodent dog
(Photo: The Rodent team)

MIPEP - Billy's own first adventure down island

I left base on Saturday morning with Colin (my dog) to start our walk to Brothers Point where would meet up with fellow hunter Mike.

As I got over Doctors track I was greeted by a good mist to walk in. Little did I know it was to be the start of an interesting week weather-wise. The mist stayed with us all down to Sandy Bay track where it lifted as I got to the coast and made my way to Brothers Point hut.

Sunday was a day off so we made ourselves useful around the hut. Mike baked his first loaf of bread and it was definitely a loaf to be proud of. I went for a walk on the beach to take photos. As I stood to take some pictures I told Colin to sit and stay. Stay he did, even when the royal penguins got curious and surrounded him. I had to wait for them to lose interest in him and walk away before I could call him on.

Monday was the start of the working week and what a week! We got blown and buffeted by the wind that was accompanied by driven rain. At the end of the day, I had to deal with taking all the buzzies from Colin's coat. An hour or so later when I had finished and got into the hut, Mike had warmed up a Fray Bentos pie and made a cup of coffee for me: bliss.

Tuesday we had a wet, blowy and misty day. Tom and Nick came from Bauer Bay and joined us at Brothers Point.

Wednesday, the four of us set off hunting towards Green Gorge. We met up with Nancye at Red River where we got our instructions for hunting her patch. The weather was nice and calm and we ended up walking the last few hours of the journey with our coats off, enjoying the calm day and occasional spell of sun breaking through the thin cloud. This presented us with a stunning view of the valley up to Pyramid Peak.

Thursday, we set of for our hunt south of Green Gorge. The wind was very strong so we decided to shelter for a bit and see if it would die down but that wasn't to happen and we ended up having to make our way back to Green Gorge hut. We spent the afternoon on hut maintenance and cleaning.

As we set off for base on Friday, it was a grey misty start. We called in at Brothers Point for a coffee and the mist lifted. We couldn't have asked for better weather for our walk up the east coast. On the way we passed seals, penguins, petrels and encountered the high tide and rolling surf which was fantastic for a coast walk home to base. None of us fell in a wallow!

Well, what a fantastic week it was for my first week's hunting on Macquarie. The company was brilliant, the weather was amazing, the scenery and wildlife not to be missed and the food plentiful and tasty.

View from the top of Green Gorge over windswept seas. The wind was reaching 60 knots and over
Windswept seas near Green Gorge. Winds were 60+ knots
(Photo: Stephen (Billy) Barton)
Several moulting royal penguins
A few more and I'm away! Moulting royal penguins
(Photo: Stephen (Billy) Barton)
A king penguin in front of 40 or so royal penguins with several elephant seal behind them
A king penguin, a few royals and some eles (elephant seals)
(Photo: Stephen (Billy) Barton)
Approaching Green Gorge looking toward Pyramid Peak. A scene filled with green grassed hills, peaks and valleys
Approaching Green Gorge looking toward Pyramid Peak
(Photo: Stephen (Billy) Barton)
View along the rocky beach at Sandy Bay with Brothers Point hut about halfway along and some penguins on the beach. Steep slopes rise from the high water mark of the beach
Brothers Point hut from Sandy Bay
(Photo: Stephen (Billy) Barton)
Colin, the springer spaniel, surrounded by curious king penguins at Sandy Bay
Colin surrounded by curious king penguins at Sandy Bay
(Photo: Stephen (Billy) Barton)
Down slope view of a small lake in a valley  in the Red River area
Mirror lake in the Red River area
(Photo: Stephen (Billy) Barton)
Nick going up along a ridge
Nick going up along a ridge
(Photo: Stephen (Billy) Barton)
Tom standing on a slope with rolling hills and valleys in the background. Tom is wearing his yellow rain jacket, blue over pants and a pith helmet. He is standing beside two survival backpacks
(Photo: Stephen (Billy) Barton)
A Southern giant petrel (GP) feasting on a dead royal penguin
Penguin for dinner
(Photo: Stephen (Billy) Barton)

Easter Saturday "Macca Mile"

Easter Saturday and what an amazing fun filled day it turned out to be! A great event pulled together by the wonderful efforts of Tony and his helpful bandits. A special thanks to Karen and Stephen and all those involved in the setting up of the green store.

Everywhere around the world people celebrated Easter by attending Mass and ensuring to eat fish, while here at Macca we celebrated in our own style. The event kicked off and proved to be an Aussie  sports dream, beginning with the special 'Macca Mile' race.

The strong and mighty Macca men taking part in this event showed courage and commitment while entertaining the crowd. The 'athletes' participating were Tony (chef), Aaron, David, Tom and the invincible chest-beating winner Craig. 

Craig won the race in Macca world record time of 12 minutes, 25 seconds. Aaron was a credible second with a time of 14:40. David was third with Tony and Tom coming in equal fourth. No times were given for third or fourth as the time keeper had lost interest by this stage.

The five competitors just before the start. Standing: Craig, Aaron and Tom (wearing fisherman overalls and a small bucket on his head). Kneeling: Dave wearing a blue 'Mr Perfect' T-shirt and Tony wearing a beanie and colourful bike shorts
The five competitors just before the start
(Photo: Barend (Barry) Becker)
Aaron (second place) giving a thumbs up as he runs past the ele seals
Aaron (second place) giving a thumbs up as he runs past the…
(Photo: Barend (Barry) Becker)
Craig pushing hard to break the record. He is running past some elephant seals, with the station and North Head in the background
Craig pushing hard to break the record
(Photo: Barend (Barry) Becker)
The crowd looking on were enthralled. Four people, Karen, Leona, Dean and Billy looking on
The crowd looking on were enthralled
(Photo: Barend (Barry) Becker)
Craig gives a smile and thumbs up as he approaches the finish line
Winners are grinners
(Photo: Barend (Barry) Becker)
Tony and Tom saluting the crowd as they finish the race
Tony and Tom saluting the crowd as they finish the race
(Photo: Barend (Barry) Becker)

Easter Saturday

After the 'Macca Mile' we moved to the green store to continue the celebrations.

An amazing banquet was served and we were spoiled with fantastic salads, smoked ham, jack potatoes, prawns and Tony’s pièce de résistance, pig on the spit. All was rapidly consumed leaving everyone involved licking their fingers and savouring the wonderful flavours.

With joyous bellies, the games began. Many took part in ping pong, volley ball, soccer, basketball, bowls and quoits and we proved to be an athletic bogan bunch. We awoke the following morning to find that the Easter Tony bunny had left us an Easter egg at our door. Also, some of us were a bit stiff and sore after the previous night's athleticism.

Two teams playing a game of volley ball
Volleyball match
(Photo: Tony Mortimer)
Macca Team members playing table tennis with other team members watching
Table tennis
(Photo: Barry Becker)
Karen and Mike playing quoits in the green store with many other people in the background playing other games
Karen and Mike playing quoits in the green store
(Photo: Tony Mortimer)

Field training

We set off on Tuesday, each of us loaded with 15 kg packs and a personal EPIRB, a spot locator device, a VHF radio, a handheld GPS, a compass and a map.

The wind was gusting at 50 knots and shortly after leaving station (100 m away). A big gust blew our companion John (6'2") completely off his feet and he hit the deck. Luckily it was driving rain so the mud got rinsed off. 

Then we turned west to begin our ascent up Gadgets Gully to the escarpment, a 330 m climb that includes climbing four stainless steel ladders along the way as it’s so steep. The whole time we were walking/climbing in a steadily flowing creek. At the top we were greeted by a powerful westerly so all that could be done was to put your face down and trudge forward step by step into the driving rain and insane wind. Marty (trip leader/survival expert) pulled us up and suggested maybe this isn't the best day to attempt the hike but we agreed to push on and just take it slowly after ascertaining that we were all dry and warm under our layers of thermals, micro fleece and Gore-tex.

The track was deep mud up to our knees for most of the way which makes walking quite exhausting but we made it to lunch where we crouched behind a rock and ate a wet vita wheat with some tuna. We did some navigation work and everyone was in high spirits. After 12 km of the same rain and wind and some great scenery we made it to the western side of the island and dropped down the escarpment to Bauer Bay where there is a little hut with a stove. We had a cup of tea and did some plumbing work on the drainage and sparky stuff on the generator. Clive did a lot of digging and John fixed the 12 v power system. 

Each hut has a great cook book called "How to cook an albatross" a collection of past expeditioner's recipes they have formulated from the rations in the huts. Clive and Marty made a vegan green coconut curry. Then we slept.

We woke Wednesday to an eerie silence and thought, surely not? Where's the wind? Somehow it had stopped. The rest of Wednesday was one of the best days we had out walking. We climbed up the escarpment again and had a view down the west coast that took all our breaths away, not that we were breathing the best after climbing the escarpment anyway. It’s one or two days a year that there is less than five knots on the west coast of Macca so we hit the jackpot. Photos below tell the story better than words can.

We spent the day hiking 15 km across the island through a world heritage area that not many people would have ever laid eyes on. It was just amazing. Past valleys, moss fields, lakes, mountains, creek after creek and all the while spotting endangered sooty albatross, black-mantled albatross and wandering albatross. 

Along the way we did the mandatory navigation exercises and radio work. We made it to the east coast and descended down the escarpment again to be greeted by another unbelievable view, this time up the east coast as it bathed in the afternoon sun. We trundled down to the hut (it looks like a red smarty in the photos), just chilled out and made a chilli beef stew with Clive. We watched the albatross and everyone told tales of the Antarctic continent and the adventures they had in helicopters, quad bikes, snow mobiles, trekking, ice caves etc. The other three guys have all wintered at every Antarctic station.

We woke Thursday morning to an ominous shuddering. It was a 65 knot north-nothwesterly and we were about to head north! We waited five hours as the bureau was telling us the wind would calm down but, it didn't. So we just said "Let’s have a crack at getting home and if it gets too bad we will just come back here to Brothers Point Hut". With ski goggles on and the Gore-tex donned, we set off. IT WAS BLOWING!. We got down onto the beach and trudged forward on the sand and pebbles, again, very hard to hike on.

Around the corner we came across a penguin colony with around 11000 pairs of royal penguins - the smell almost unbearable. It smells as it should, the poo of 22000 penguins which is made up of digested fish, krill and urine mixed with mud - not exactly sweet roses - but it was a spectacular site and the noise is deafening.

The rest of the day, we pushed forward past multiple penguin colonies and herds of elephant and fur seals. The sand got softer and the rocks got bigger -we were pretty well knackered! Finally we caught sight of the station a mere three kilometres away. Then Marty said "Bad news guys, we need to climb back up the escarpment, the surf is too big to get past the next headland". So up we went again to a valley, apparently called Hidden Valley, another scene out of Jurassic Park. Now we were really stuffed, it was time to go back down the escarpment on the other side of the headland. We began a slow decent and we were down! We walked the remaining three kilometres home and the trip was over an excellent three days. We covered about 35 km as the crow flies but I think it was more if you add the up and down. 

Clive, John and Josh

Clive, Marty and John standing in the field their packs are on the ground, behind them is a lake and then the ocean
Clive, Marty and John soaking up the views
(Photo: Josh Tomasetti)
A picture of Macquarie Island east coast
East coast
(Photo: Josh Tomasetti)
Josh and Clive standing on the porch of Bauer Bay Hut with their gear on the ground behind them
The chaps at Bauer Bay Hut - Josh on the left and…
(Photo: Josh Tomasetti)
A penguin colony made up of thousands of penguins living on Macquarie island mountain range
Macquarie Island penguin colony
(Photo: Josh Tomasetti)